On the eve of federal, state and territory transport ministers’ first roundtable meeting since August, the CEO of Australia’s largest rail freight operator has renewed calls for significant cuts to rail access charges along key routes.
Dean Dalla Valle, CEO of Pacific National, said ministers attending the Transport & Infrastructure Council meeting in Melbourne on November 22 should seriously consider the virtue of the access charges forced upon operators like PN, and the resulting imbalance of road and rail freight across the nation.
Citing the Inland Rail deal signed this week between Queensland and the Commonwealth, Dalla Valle praised the agreement itself, but noted “operators like Pacific National will pay for the cost and future maintenance of Inland Rail through rail access charges – charges that are currently too high on many existing rail lines; like the transport corridor between Melbourne and Sydney”.
“By the time the Inland Rail is due to be completed – 2025 at the earliest – the Newell Highway between the Victorian to Queensland borders would have undergone massive upgrades, including more heavy vehicle town bypasses. Once highways are upgraded, governments feel compelled to approve the roll-out of bigger and heavier articulated trucks like A-doubles and B-triples. This further deepens the decline of freight on rail.”
Dalla Valle has in the past called for rail access charges between Melbourne and Sydney to be completely abolished, given just one per cent of the 20 million tonnes of palletised and containerised freight moving between the two cities – Australia’s largest – are currently moved by rail.
“It’s frustrating that the many and varied benefits of rail freight, including reducing accidents and ‘wear and tear’ on roads, are rarely factored into land freight pricing models,” Dalla Valle said.
“The country’s busiest freight corridor by volume has become a conveyor belt of 700,000 B-double equivalent return truck trips each year along the Hume Highway. Rail freight continues to pay its way, but ever-increasing government charges to access railways merely drive more freight onto local, state and federal roads.”
Pacific National estimates road user charges for B-double trucks could increase just 1.4 per cent between 2012/13 and 2020/21, after the Transport & Infrastructure Council agreed to freeze heavy vehicle charges in November 2015.
By contrast, Pacific National estimates rail access charges could increase on average by 22 per cent over the same timeframe, having already come off a higher charging base than road freight.
“The result – in the last decade, on major transport corridors like Melbourne-Sydney and Sydney-Brisbane, large volumes of freight have shifted to bigger and heavier articulated trucks.
“Rail access charges need to be reduced so operators like Pacific National have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with road freight.”